SIOUX CITY -- A childhood idol who became a longtime friend, Gus Schrader, wound up offering me a job at a very young age and became a valued friend even after I turned him down.
The longtime sports editor of The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Gus was clearly one of the finer sports columnists our state has ever known. Certainly, he was one of the most influential, as well.
So, when University of Iowa president Willard “Sandy” Boyd proposed the home to Hawkeye football be renamed Kinnick-Slater, he was essentially vetoed when Schrader came out in opposition.
Republican state legislator Ivor Stanley suggested a compromise, honoring Slater by assigning his name to the residence hall nearest to the stadium. And, that’s how things have been ever since this debate began back in 1972.
Nearly a half-century later, my loyalties still lie with Schrader, who died in 2001, and with Kinnick, Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy winner, a war hero killed during World War II and the Adel native who was the American Legion catcher for the great Bob Feller from nearby Van Meter.
A beautiful and lengthy Sports Illustrated feature published Aug. 31, 1987, offered an inspiring testimonial to Kinnick, suggesting he was the kind of exemplary American who might have been presidential material.
Now, though, comes a petition that renews the quest to name the venerable venue Kinnick-Slater. And, I’m not so sure it isn’t a good idea with Boyd still here at age 93.
On the one hand, it seems as though this campaign falls into lock-step with all the developments thus far related to the “Black Lives Matter’’ movement. So much of this and more are long overdue. Still, the ultimate goal should reinforce the consummate truth that all lives matter.
This isn’t an attempt to jump on a bandwagon. Rather, the bid to pay tribute to Slater on a much larger scale is potentially timely in its own right, coming just when College Football Hall of Famer is about to join the Pro Football Hall in August.
Those are just two of many testaments to the greatness of a Chicago-area native who made his way to Iowa City after a sterling high school career in Clinton. Even I am too “young” to fully grasp what he accomplished before dying of stomach cancer at age 67 in 1966.
Frederick Wayman Slater was the son of a Methodist minister who picked up the nickname “Duke” as a show of affection for the family dog who bore that same name. The athletic youngster was 13 when his father became the pastor of an A.M.E. church in Clinton, which became eternally grateful for the new residents.
Initially forbidden to try out for football by his father, fearful his son would be seriously injured, an unhappy teenager went on a hunger strike that finally got dad to relent with one caveat. Duke was ordered to be careful to avoid injury, so he made certain, instead, to never complain of the inevitable injuries he couldn’t avoid.
Clinton High was unofficially crowned state football champions in 1913 and 1914, long before state-sanctioned playoffs and even a good many years before wire service polls decided mythical titles. After his senior year in 1915, Slater’s teams had posted a three-year record of 22-3-1 and even though the 6-1, 215-pounder played tackle most of this time, he led the 2015 team in scoring, taking enough snaps as a fullback to score six touchdowns.
It was 1918 when Slater arrived at Iowa and eligibility rules that had made freshmen ineligible -- a rule later reinstated for several decades -- were waved due to World War I. As a result, he was able to play four years on teams that went 23-6-1, capping it off with a 7-0 national championship campaign in 1921, his senior season.
Those Hawkeyes, Iowa’s first outright Big Ten champs, won a tense 10-7 battle with Notre Dame, which hadn’t lost in three years. Ending a 20-game winning streak for Knute Rockne’s Fighting Irish, Iowa got its only touchdown from Gordon Locke, following a block by the helmet-less Slater. This image is immortalized by a bronze relief in the stadium’s renovated north end zone.
“This fellow Slater just about beat my team single-handed,’’ Rockne said. “Realizing the great strength of Slater and the fact that he knew how to use that strength to intelligent advantage, I had four of my players massed around Slater throughout the game.’’
Then came a 10-year pro career beginning in 1922, the first year the American Professional Football Association became the NFL after just two seasons as the APFA. He made his debut on Oct. 1, 1922, helping the Rock Island (Ill.) Independents top the Green Bay Packers 19-14 by swatting down a pass from quarterback Curly Lambeau. As many of you realize, the Packers didn’t decline naming their current home after that early hero.
Slater was a three-time All-NFL selection with the Independents and teammate Jim Thorpe before that team moved to the rival American Football League in 1926.
Late in his lone AFL season, the bruising lineman signed a contract with the Chicago Cardinals, now the Arizona Cardinals. This made him the first African-American to play for one of the current NFL franchises.
Like Kinnick, Slater’s legacy stretched well beyond his playing days.
Completing law school at Iowa, he passed the bar while still playing for the Cardinals. After one year as a high school coach in Oklahoma City, he returned to Chicago to practice law in 1933. Then, in 1948, he received nearly one million votes to win his first of two six-year terms with the Cook County Municipal Court.
In 1960, he became a judge in Chicago’s highest court, the Cook County Superior Court, and moved to the Circuit Court of Cook County four years later, when that institution was formed.
Slater was named in 1946 to an 11-man all-time college football All-America team selected by 600 coaches and sportswriters. Then, in 1969, the college game’s centennial, he was also one of 44 men picked to an all-century team.
When the university weighs all of the above and decides what to do, they should also bear in mind that Slater was an active Hawkeye booster who helped recruit dozens of prominent African-American athletes. That list includes football greats Ozzie Simmons, Emlen Tunnell and Earl Banks along with basketball stars Nolden Gentry and Carl Cain.
Kinnick-Slater Stadium? Sounds like a plan.
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